A roaring open fire. The bartender knows your name. Located on a side-street to keep out the drunks . No music and quiet enough to talk. Are these some of the attributes which make a perfect pub?
George Orwell, famous novelist and essayist, seems to think so. In an article he wrote for the London Evening Standard in 1946 he listed 10 details of his ideal watering hole, The Moon Under Water, which “is only two minutes from a bus stop, but it is on a side-street, and drunks and rowdies never seem to find their way there, even on Saturday nights”.
Written at a time when the pub industry was booming, with around 70,000 active pubs across the UK (compared to 45,000 now), this list categorises the universal and timeless qualities that would make an ideal Public House. It was a manifesto that lived down the ages. Everyone was equal in front of the bar, regardless of age or sex – it was egalitarian by design. A place of serenity. A haven for thought and conversation.
In my view Orwell was spot on. There is something special about a pub. It is here that you will find the true England – a communal establishment in which an individual is at liberty to drink and say what he likes. A place where the community comes together; even back then he was concerned that the different classes were not mixing, but in a pub they can come together.
One famous pub chain, JD Weatherspoons, literally pins Orwell’s advice to its walls. No fewer than fourteen of its establishments are called The Moon Under Water.
Orwell’s essay picks out the essence of what a pub is about, says founder Tim Martin, and is “very similar” to what the chain is trying to create, although he admits that the writer might not have been impressed by some examples.
“He’d probably say we do very well in getting near to his idealised pub in some and we’ve got some more work to do in others,” Martin adds.
“The art of conversation’s what you need in a good British pub.”
Orwell would have concurred with the ban on music. “In the Moon Under Water it is always quiet enough to talk,” he wrote. “The house possesses neither a radio nor a piano, and even on Christmas Eve and such occasions the singing that happens is of a decorous kind.”
But, in one respect at least, his outlook was remarkably modern, decrying “the puritanical nonsense of excluding children – and therefore, to some extent, women – from pubs that has turned these places into mere boozing-shops instead of the family gathering-places that they ought to be”.
Paul Moody, who with Robin Turner co-authored The Search for the Perfect Pub: Looking for the Moon Under Water believes that the quality of a pub is “all about individuality, character and independence”.
“The trouble is these days so many pubs you go into, you go into them and you come away feeling as though it’s nothing more than a chain-store effectively.
“It provides a service but you don’t get the individuality, which is what Orwell was talking about, really… the atmosphere is key to a great pub.”
Orwell understood that a great British pub is where the personality of the institution is dictated by the personality of the landlord. ‘My gaff, my rules,’ as Al Murray would say.
The perfect pub is one that is just open
However, sadly Orwell’s utopian pub may not last be as timeless as he fantasised. Paul Moody confessed that sometimes, the perfect pub is just “one that’s just open”
The loss of thousands of licensed premises every year, has led to many to debate what the essence of a pub is and what it stands for in our community. And do you know what? Passions can run high among some customers when their local is faced with last orders.
Take Cardiff’s Vulcan Hotel. Built in 1853, 29 years before the city’s renowned Brains Brewery, it is one of the Welsh capital’s oldest pubs. When it faced closure in 2008, more than 5,000 people rallied round and signed a petition to save it.
Rachel Thomas, a Save The Vulcan campaigner from Cardiff, is clear about the pub’s charm.
“It’s one of the last spit and sawdust pubs in Cardiff. It still has a lot of its original features such as the old tiling – it’s had a lick of paint over the years but the inside has largely been left alone. It has a real Victorian feel to it”.
This goes to show that Pubs are still the cornerstone of community value and identity and, despite their dwindling influence in our economy, they still maintain a high sentimental value within every town, city, village and suburb across the UK.
Of course, The Moon Under Water actually doesn’t exist, with Orwell finally admitting at the end of the piece that he only knew of one place that had eight of the ten characteristics listed. And sadly for Orwell, this pub is now closed down with the beer garden having been turned into a car park.
Nevertheless here are his 10 prerequisites for the perfect pub. Does your local tick all the boxes?
George Orwell’s ideal pub
For him the pub would have the following 10 attributes:
1) On a side street, to keep out the drunks or “rowdies”.
2) Most of the customers are regulars and “go there for conversation as much as for the beer”.
3) Its look is uncompromisingly Victorian – “everything has the solid, comfortable ugliness of the 19th century” – and there is a log fire in winter.
4) A dining room upstairs, where you can get a good solid lunch. Only snacks are served in the evening.
5) Downstairs there is a public bar, a saloon bar and a ladies’ bar.
6) No radio, no piano. It is always quiet enough to talk.
7) The barmaids know the customers’ names and call them “dear”, but never “ducky”.
8) It sells tobacco, stamps and even aspirin.
9) The beer (including a “soft, creamy stout”) is always served in a glass with a handle. Ideally, a pewter or china pot.
10) There is a garden, with a slide and swings for children. It is “puritanical nonsense” to ban children.